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The UMS 2010: Day 4

by on Aug.04, 2010, under Concert Reviews

Day four of the UMS began for us a little later than the day before. The rest of the festival was wearing on us, and we struggled to get to the Baker Neighborhood by 4:00pm. Once we got there, however, the music got us excited again. The day started off with The Conjugal Visits at TS Board Shop. This punk band didn’t have a huge crowd, but those of us who were there really enjoyed the sincere and energetic and incredibly catchy punk music we heard. Next up was The Photo Atlas at the Goodwill stage, filling in for an illness-riddled Hello Kavita. Dancy and passionate, The Photo Atlas is always enjoyable to see. We were sad to miss Hello Kavita’s last show for awhile, but the set put on by The Photo Atlas was a nice consolation.

Next, we crossed Broadway to The Irish Rover, to see Bela Karoli. We hadn’t seen Julie Davis and company for quite a while, and were happy to enter the, literally, overflowing bar to see them. Charming as always, the group always delights with it’s musicality and its relaxed attitude. After a fun and relaxing set, we walked down to the Hi-Dive for some auditory whiplash with Tjutjuna. Loud and weird, we loved this set. Their epic soundscapes filled the venue and the audience seemed to deeply appreciate the music. The only problem was the mere half-hour set, which left us calling for more.

Next, we trekked the 10 minute walk to Club 404 to see Old Radio. This shoegaze group was absolutely excellent. Powerful and well-crafted songs made Old Radio one of our new favorite Denver bands, and we hope they continue to play.

After this set, however, the festival caught up to us and we were too tired to continue. As I drove back to Golden after the Old Radio set, feet and back aching and my ability to appreciate live music temporarily destroyed, it struck me how amazing the Denver music scene really is. Certainly at this year’s UMS, we saw bands which are always fun to see and which we’ll check out every time we can. But there were also bands we’d never heard of that kept us more than entertained. I don’t think we saw a single bad set all weekend, and we certainly saw a fair share of amazing ones. Denver has an amazing set of creative and motivated musicians which make it possible for something like the UMS to be as successful as it was.

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The UMS 2010: Day 3

by on Aug.02, 2010, under Concert Reviews

Saturday began at the Goodwill stage with Houses. Having missed their set the previous night, I was excited to see them again. While it was certainly a worthwhile set, the previous night (and the illness which had broken out among certain Houses members) had an obvious affect on the band’s performance. Normally engaging and fun, this set seemed tired. With this slight disappointment and because we’d seen Houses so often, we headed across the street to Michelangelo’s Coffee & Wine Bar for Eleanor. An acoustic solo set, the music was fresh and relaxing. It coupled perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere of the venue, and was very enjoyable.

We continued on, next to Maudlin at Illiterate Magazine. This trio paired catchy hooks with wall-of-sound techniques for a very interesting combination. Though not a style we’d often heard, it was very enjoyable to listen to. After a brief dinner at the Walnut Room, where the sundry tones of Rob Drabkin filled the air, we continued on to Jim McTurnan and the Kids that Killed the Man. Among our favorite Denver bands, McTurnan and crew were as delightful as always on Saturday. The group’s interesting and powerful songs filled the Hi-Dive much to the delight of entertained fans.

Following McTurnan’s set, we couldn’t refuse seeing fellow-Golden residents, The Gromet. Bluesy, fun, and excited, it’s always fun to see this group. Their music matched well with the venue – The Irish Rover – and we enjoyed the 3 or 4 songs of theirs we stayed for. After the Gromet, we crossed the street to the Goodwill parking lot to see The Heyday. Always an enjoyable act to see, The Heday are certainly good at what they do. Next, we walked down to TS Board Shop for Seattle’s Tea Cozies. At first, the group intoxicated us with their charm. By the end of the 4 or 5 songs we heard them play, they had won us over with their talent and musicality.

Next, we went back to the Hi-Dive for Porlolo. Always a fun show, Porlolo certainly delivered on Saturday. Though it was their second set of the weekend, the energy Erin Roberts carries with her carried through at the Hi-Dive. After a few songs from the band, we were off to the Goodwill parking lot stage for Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. Driven by pounding beats from dual shockingly-in-sync percussionists, Snake combines dance rhythms with a walloping bass-line and passionate guitar playing and singing to great effect. The outdoor stage, however, wasn’t a great setting for this group which is more suited to a room overflowing with excited and sweaty people than a roomy, slightly cool parking lot. That aside, the set was excellent as always.

After a quick bite to eat, we entered a packed Hi-Dive to see Gregory Alan Isakov. We overheard a fan describing Isakov as “a combination of Leonard Cohen and Iron and Wine” before the show, and the performance lived up to that expectation. The music was powerful, while retaining its relaxed quality, and it was among our favorite sets of the night. Playing at the same time, at the Goodwill parking lot stage, were the Flobots. While the music the group plays is among my least favorite in the Denver (or national) scene, they certainly know how to put on a show. The parking lot was packed for the act and the audience hung on every movement of the 7-piece group. Their musicianship was more than quality and the set was a fun experience, despite my opinions on their music.

Next, we heard the end of the Radical Knitting Circle’s act at the Skylark – while not enough was heard to make a proper judgment, the group seemed interesting enough to take another look in the future. Next at the Skylark was Lubbock’s Thrift Store Cowboy. The group masterfully combined their Texas western roots with indie rock. Steel guitar was matched with traditional rock riffs and at-time haunting singing. A sound unlike anything I’d ever heard, we were surprised – very pleasantly – by the group.

Next, we continued on to the Hi-Dive for their last set of the night, The Widow’s Bane. We’d not heard of this Boulder-based group before Saturday night, but were excited to find out what they were all about. When a group, dressed as 1700s zombies came on stage, we knew seeing this set was a good idea. The group’s music was simultaneously Irish folk music and Tom Waits. The huge crowd enjoyed themselves greatly, and everyone in the Hi-Dive seemed to be dancing.

Finally, we returned to the Mayan Theater for the last set of the night – Ukulele Loki’s Gadabout Orchestra. The music was self-described “indie acoustic chamber pop,” but the act was more of a vaudeville show than anything. It included circus performers doing their acts to music, as well as singular music performances. While it was obvious that the act was very good and interesting, it was too laid back for 1:30am after a day of a music festival, and we left halfway through the act. The crowd was obviously not very into it either. It was a good idea, and a cool act, but should’ve been put at a different time.

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The UMS 2010: Day 2

by on Jul.29, 2010, under Concert Reviews

Friday night’s festivities began a little earlier than Thursday’s, and before 7:00pm hit, we were at the Goodwill Parking Lot stage to see blog favorite Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Her set was different than any other set we’d seen her play; sometimes-present band member and double bass player Dennis joined Danielle on stage, as well as a new addition, violinist Chris. While this has been the standard line-up since her new CD came out in early July, it was the first we’d seen of it. The addition of violin and bass added new layers to the music, and, musically, it was possibly the best DAtS show we’d ever seen. However, the awkward charm so often present in previous shows was lessened with the addition of new musicians. Still, things like a cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance along with great new songs made this a fun and charming way to start day two of the UMS.

We briefly walked across the parking lot to see Paper Bird’s second set of the weekend. They were much more at home outdoors, and the few songs we heard were fun and got the modest crowd excited. Having seen most of the songs they played the night before, we went to the TS Board Shop stage to see Accordion Crimes. The group was, as always, incredibly tight. Last time we saw them, some technical issues plagued their set. Those issues being gone greatly added to the performance.

We went next to the Hi-Dive to see, we thought, Kaiser Cartel. However, despite the indication of the UMS pamphlet, Kaiser Cartel was not playing, Dust on the Breakers taking their place (it should be noted that the UMS website noted this change and signs were posted near the box office). Despite the change in bands, it was very enjoyable to hear this band we’d previously not seen.

When 9:00pm hit, we returned to the Goodwill parking lot to see John Common and the Blinding Flashes of Light. The last time we saw this group, it was a super-intense performance. This time, however, was much more relaxed. Still a good performance musically, it lacked the passion we’d come to expect from this band. As such, we wandered back up Broadway, and were immediately attracted to the unrealistically loud music blaring out of Rock the Cradle. Lil’ Slugger (the only band with its own comic book that we know of) was sending its pseudo-punk sounds for at least a block in every direction. While the extreme volume was a good addition to the style of music, the music could have stood on its own. We spent as long as we could in the area before our eardrums burst, and before we knew it, 10:00pm had come.

While The Knew was playing at the Hi-Dive, the huge line coming out of the venue inspired us to find some new groups we’d never heard. As such, we headed down to the Skylark to see Pink Hawks. The crowd was up an moving at this lounge-roots group; while not our favorite type of music, it was obvious that the group was good at what they did. After a few songs, we did some browsing, stopping by each of the venues we passed. Doing this let us catch a song or two by Chris Adolf (of Bad Weather California), Story of the Sea, and Lion Sized. While none of these acts were mind-blowing, the ability to see better-than-average music every few steps was among my favorite parts of the UMS. Any time there wasn’t a group I particularly wanted to see, I could simply walk in a venue in search for a new band to love.

With the line to the Hi-Dive still too long to see These United States (and, eventually, Houses), we wondered around Broadway for a few hours, catching bits and pieces of some spectacular sets. These included Git Some, Hoots and Hellmouth, the Outfit, TaunTaun, and Coles Whalen. Finally, after a number of great sets and a musical break, we wondered into the Mayan Theater for the Nathan & Stephen reunion show. The show was supposed to start around 12:30, which is when the lobby of the Mayan started filling up. However, Houses was playing with two members of Nathan and Stephen. Finally, after a set by local comedian/musician Magic Cyclops, and well after 1:00am, the band took the stage. The high-energy set was well worth the wait. The group played a full set, and ended after around 2:15, but the audience and band seemed to want to keep going forever. This set was the perfect end to the first two nights of the UMS and got us extremely excited for the weekend stretch of the festival.


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The UMS 2010: Day 1

by on Jul.25, 2010, under Concert Reviews

Day one of the UMS is always a little more relaxed than the rest of the festival. Only 8 venues featured music Thursday night (compared to 22 on Friday, 24 on Saturday, and 15 on Sunday) and shows didn’t start until 8:00pm. Even so, it was one of the most eventful and exciting Thursday nights I’ve had in recent memory. Despite staying between Ellsworth Ave and Cedar Ave (read: between the Hi-Dive and the Skylark) the whole night, I managed to catch at least segments of 8 or 9 (mostly great) sets and explore the wonderful Baker neighborhood; It was a great way to start one of Denver’s best weekends.

I started off my night at the Skylark Lounge for Fort Collins’s Sour Boy, Bitter Girl. This indie-folk band performed really well, and was a good start for the UMS – a local band who shows their passion for music each time they play, reminiscent of all the great local bands performing this weekend. After the FoCo group, I strolled to the Hi-Dive to see the solo act of Jeremy Messersmith. Messersmith started off his set playing acoustic guitar and singing over a recorded drum beat. His relaxed tunes at times channeled Neil Simon.


After 4 or 5 songs of Messersmith, I decided to head back to the Skylark and check out FoCo band Paean. This group was very intriguing; featuring occasionally non-standard instruments (at one point, there were 3 guitars, a violin, and a bass on stage), the band made a lot of noise. They created brilliantly-structured soundscapes, and filled the Skylark with their avant-rock sounds. I when Paean had finished, I stuck around for Good Evening Titan. Their bright and poppy melodies were another great addition to the night’s shows. I had never heard this group before, but am looking forward to seeing their dancy and upbeat guitar and synth-driven music again.

Next, I ventured back to the Hi-Dive for Shapes Stars Make!, a band from Texas which gave my favorite set of the night. The group draws easy comparison to Explosions in the Sky, if Explosions occasionally sang. Despite their similarity, watching the intensity with which they played was fantastic. I was very sad when they stopped play, after having only heard a few of their songs.

Because Shapes Stars Make! had finished a bit earlier than expected, I was able to catch The Swayback at 3 Kings Tavern. The venue was packed, filled with fans who fully appreciated the energetic punk-rock sounds of the group. After a few songs, however, their set was also over, and it was back to the Skylark for SLS-favorite Candy Claws.

I’ve seen Candy Claws a number of times this summer, heard reviews from friends of their recent sets in Chicago and Somerville, MA, and each time it seems like their a different – but better –  band. The dream-pop landscapes they produce are joyous and relaxing, and it seems like they’re finally getting their due. The Skylark was absolutely packed with people eager, and pleased, to hear FoCo’s newest buzz band.

After a great Candy Claws set, we stuck around for Roger Roll. Eric Peterson (who will have played at least 5 sets when the UMS ends on Sunday and receives the honor of Denver’s hardest working  musician) fronts this band, which also features Corey Teruya (of Hello Kavita) on bass and a viola and cello. We saw Roger Roll not too long ago at the Hi-Dive, where potential for brilliance was obvious, with the performance not quite matching the song-writing. At the Skylark, however, the group was much more cohesive and the beautifully-written lived up to their promise. It’s exciting to hear such deliberately well-crafted songs, and I’m looking forward to more Roger Roll music in the future.

Finally, it was back to the Hi-Dive for one last band – Paper Bird. As always, this Americana band is fun to listen to and a joy to see live. The Hi-Dive at midnight, however, wasn’t the sort of place where they really shine through. So, after a long first day at the UMS, I ventured back to Golden after 4 or 5 Paper Bird songs, excited to hear them again later on Friday.

Words and photos by Jake Rezac. More coverage from the UMS to come…

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Balancing act: the 2010 Westword Music Showcase

by on Jun.27, 2010, under Concert Reviews

This year’s Westword Music Showcase was a balancing act between seeing groups we’d never seen before and old favorites. The day’s schedule put some of our favorite groups on during the same time-periods, as well as pitting groups we’d heard great things about against groups we knew to be spectacular. The solution we decided on was this: with a few exceptions, we’d spend no more than 25 minutes at a particular set, giving us time to rush to other shows going on at the same time and catch the end of their act. While we hated to leave some of our favorite acts early, we also got to see a good portion of Denver’s amazing music scene.

Mike Marchant

We started the day off at Bar Standard for Mike Marchant’s set. As always, the passionate playing of Marchant and the rest of his band was emotive and powerful. The group ended their set with a medley of songs. As always, Marchant’s much-vaunted songwriting ability and huge stage presence provided a great way to kick off the day.

Houses

Every Houses show seems to be exponentially better than their last, and we couldn’t resist sticking around the Bar Standard to catch the beginning of their act. Although the massive band was playing on a stage the size of a small apartment’s living room, their presence filled the whole of the venue. The venue filled up as Houses took the stage, and the group’s unique combination of indie and classic rock didn’t disappoint. Sadly, after we heard some of our favorite songs, we faced our first scheduling conflict of the day and left to see Achille Lauro.

Achille Lauro

This band has become much better live since last time we saw them. They easily filled up the huge space of the Curious Theatre and the on-stage banter between band members filled a void that was present in the past. Although we only caught the end of the set, we were happy to hear some of our favorite songs – “No Breaks” and “Friend’s War,” included in the mix.

Danielle Ate the Sandwich

Though we’ve seen Danielle countless times, with her being up next in the Curious, we couldn’t help but stay for a few of her songs. Charming as ever, Danielle was joined by her occasional bassist Dennis for what is always a treat. We heard a few delightful and quirky songs from her upcoming album Two Bedroom Apartment before leaving for the next act.

Kinetix

After the soothing and relaxed playing of Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Kinetix’s set at City Hall was auditory whiplash. Kinetix may be, musically, the polar opposite of every band we’d seen so far, but the passion and energy they played with easily allowed us to switch gears. While their style makes it temping to call them a jam band, Kinetix is much more than this – interesting and catchy hooks combined well with a powerful beat that got a packed crowd moving. This was the most exciting act we’d seen all day, and kept us going as the day wore on.

Accordion Crimes

Next was Accordion Crimes at Sutra. An incredibly high-intensity band, Accordion Crime’s music matched the packed, hot, and sweaty atmosphere of Sutra. The group was extremely tight and blew us away with their musicality. Despite a few technical hic-ups, the show was very powerful and passionate.

Ian Cooke

The Curious Theatre was running a few minutes later than most of the other venues and we were lucky enough to catch the end of Ian Cooke’s set. Having seen Cooke’s solo set a few weeks ago at the D-Note, it was amazing to see how different he was with a full band. The full band provided a much fuller sound to the songs and gave a wholly different character. Songs that are beautiful from their simplicity in his solo act become beautiful from their exceptional orchestration in his full set. The two or three songs we saw from Cooke were enough to remind us of his incredible musical talent.

Hello Kavita

The 4:15-5:00 slot provided another tough choice – favorites Hello Kavita, Candy Claws and Astrophagus were playing, exceptional national act Neon Indian started at 4:30, and a number of great bands we’d not seen live were playing at the same time slot. While we wanted to get to as many of these bands as possible, we just couldn’t skip the exceptional band Hello Kavita at the Curious. Their set started off a bit disappointingly, their first song or two not being as clean as we’re used to. However, the band seemed to make a few adjustments as their act went on, and the relaxed pop sounds of the band filled the air of the Curious Theatre and made us remember why we like this band so much. Forced to move on to the next act after a few songs, we were very sad to have to miss the end of Hello Kavita’s set.

Candy Claws

Candy Claws’ almost indescribable music is a great treat, and we were happy to head to Vinyl to see their ethereal poppy set. The band seems extremely focused and professional when they perform, but the music they play has a tone of unbridled, child-like joy. The huge band barely fit on the stage they were put on, but they were still able to delight the audience. Their less-than-standard approach to pop music was a perfect preface to Neon Indian, playing on the main stage.

Neon Indian

Neon Indian’s minimalistic psychedelic pop filled the air as we entered the main stage for the first time. While the large crowd enjoyed the music, Neon Indian isn’t fit for an outdoor stage. Too much of the group’s brilliant music was lost due to crowd noise and a lack of boundaries to contain it. Certain sounds, subtle and masterful in their recorded music, were overpowering in the outdoor stage. As such, we left after a few songs, heading indoors again.

Chain Gang of 1974

City Hall was packed for the super-intense music of Chain Gang of 1974. Both die-hard fans and newcomers filled the venue, dancing and screaming to the up-beat music of Kamtin Mohager and back-up musicians. Mohager is more of a rock star than anyone else in the Denver music scene, strutting around the stage like Keith Richards and filling the stage with an intense presence. More importantly, his intensity backs up his music, which is at times psychedelic, at times punk, and at times pop, but always dancy and powerful. This was quite the switch from the previous few groups we’d seen, but it was a welcome change and a great way to set the mood for the passionate performers we’d end our night with.

John Common and the Blinding Flashes of Light

With the Curious Theatre still running a bit late, we were able to catch the end of John Common and the Blinding Flashes of Light’s set. It was standing room only in the venue and the huge crowd wasn’t disappointed. The group lived up to its name, as their intensity of playing was almost disorienting. Although we only caught the last few songs the group played, we’re already looking forward to seeing them again when the UMS comes in July.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake

While the Curious was full for John Common, it seemed to overflow when Snake Rattle Rattle Snake took the stage. The group brought the crowd to its feet by halfway through its first song, and the band’s pounding dance rhythms kept the audience dancing the whole way through. While we had originally wanted to see some other groups playing at the 6:15 time slot, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake’s music kept us glue to their set (and had we wanted to leave, the massive crowd seemed un-navigable). Easily the highest-energy group of the day, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake was a great way to end the local portion of the showcase.

Superchunk

After seeing an incredible group of Denver musicians, Superchunk’s indie rock/punk playing seemed a bit lacking in intensity. Perhaps this was due to them being outdoors, but the group’s fabled energy didn’t seem to come across. Still, the music was excellent, and more than made up for their lack of intensity.

Ghostland Observatory

Finally, after a surprisingly short wait, the headliners come on the main stage. Ghostland Observatory is famed for their amazing light shows and huge stage presence, and their performance on Saturday showed how deserving of that fame they truly are. While their music was not our favorite style, the performance nevertheless made it a show worth going to. After a long day, only an exceptional show could have kept us interested – and Ghostland Observatory provided exactly what we needed.

“It’s a city holiday today, right?” said a young woman parking her car on S. Broadway Saturday morning. “It’s the Westword Music Showcase – we must be able to park for free!” That sort of passion for music and love for the Denver music scene was the highlight of the day. Each concert we’ve been to since last year’s Westword has seemed to be better than the last, and this year’s showcase was a culmination of the great music scene Denver continues to develop.

Check out The Flat Response for some great recordings from Saturday’s concert, including Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Dirty Projectors, Flashbulb Fires, and Superchunk. http://www.theflatresponse.com/

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Audio Interview: Frank Turner

by on Sep.23, 2009, under Interviews

Frank Turner is a British folk-singer with a new record called Poetry of the Deed. We talked with Frank before his gig opening for Gaslight Anthem at the Ogden and have this audio interview to share.

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Photo by Bryan Lambert

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Concert Review: Gaslight Anthem at the Ogden

by on Sep.17, 2009, under Concert Reviews

While some of us were at Monolith on Sunday evening, Jake went downtown to cover this show at the Ogden.

Frank Turner: Having listened to his new album, Poetry of the Deed, and talked to this British punk singer-turned folk artist before the show, I was very excited to hear Frank Turner’s live act; Turner did not disappoint. Years of playing punk shows with his old band, Million Dead, taught Turner to electrify a crowd, even with the low-key acoustic set he presented at the show. The passion and energy Turner created more than filled the gap that other instruments fill on his album. Between songs, Turner created a familial atmosphere in the room which few bands can emulate. Turner’s set, although excellent, was a bit out of place, compared to the punk and rock sets which would follow.

The Loved Ones: I had never heard of Philadelphia punk band The Loved Ones before last weekend’s show. Their style was a sharp contrast to Turner’s set, but the band’s upbeat and intense sound was an enjoyable addition to the show. The majority of the crowd appeared to have not heard the band before their show, but after a few songs, the crowd’s near-malaise was turned to enthusiasm. The band’s sound was, with some exceptions, standard punk. However, their stage presence more than made up for their lack of uniqueness.

Murder by Death: Murder by Death is one of the most unique bands in the (somewhat) mainstream circuit. Lead singer Adam Turla has been compared to Johnny Cash and many songs are driven by the electric cello of Sarah Balliet. Their songs about the devil and zombies coincide well with their rock meets old west sound. All of this made for a wonderful show which was well-appreciated by the Ogden crowd. This high-energy set may have been the best of the night, musically.

Gaslight Anthem: By the time Gaslight Anthem was setting up, The Ogden was teeming with fans of the headliner. Gaslight Anthem’s unique blend of Punk and Classic Rock attracted a very diverse crowd to the show, but everyone seemed happy with what they heard. Like the previous sets, Gaslight Anthem’s was full of energy. This effected their sound a bit, with more punk coming out than their albums would indicate. However, this was certainly not a bad thing; rather, it provided a new look at their songs, which was unexpected and well-received. Much to the excitement of Gaslight Anthem’s long-time fans, the band finished with a three-song encore including songs from their first releases.

Words by Jake Rezac, Photos by Bryan Lambert

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Young Coyotes Week: Basement Review

by on Mar.18, 2009, under Album Reviews, Blogs

Young Coyotes’ March 2009 EP, Basement, was so named because it was recorded in the band’s basement. Pesonally having been born less than five miles from emo-superstar Conor Oberst’s childhood home and never before having heard Young Coyotes’ music, I was worried Basement was going to be a lo-fi, whiney, sadness-release. It’s hard for me to imagine being more wrong.

The EP focuses on rhythm and vocals – think the dynamic and rhythmic qualities of Animal Collective with some Shins-style vocals thrown in for good measure. The first two tracks on the album – “Momentary Drowning” and “When I was in the Fire” – make the best use of these focuses. Both songs are centered around warm, melodic chants. The chants provide more than just background noise and structure for the tracks. They cleverly play off of lead singer Zach Tipton’s vocals in a way which enhances both. Further, the chants fade in and out to highlight the rise and fall of each song.

Besides the rhythms created by the chants is rhythm generated by the heavy percussion component. The drums – which fade in and out to great effect, much like the background chants – are as important to each song as the vocals. With guitar being the only other instrument regularly appearing on the EP (bells make an occasional appearance), the drums provide necessary support to the vocals. Much like in a classical string quartet, where each aspect of the small ensemble is vital to success, the percussion provides a driving force which would be otherwise lacking.

Structurally, Basement is fairly standard pop. However, the focus on heavy drum beats and clever hooks put it on a different level. Only 17 minutes in length, Basement is a solid, interesting, and fun EP – particularly for Young Coyotes’ first release. The EP makes me excited to hear more Young Coyotes’ material and look forward to a time when this young band breaks out of the Denver music scene, onto the national stage.

Listen to “Momentary Drowning” right here!

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Album Review: Fleet Foxes

by on Nov.03, 2008, under Album Reviews

The Fleet Foxes are a difficult band to define. They combine the melodic and vocal tendencies of a group like Animal Collective, while using brilliant melodies reminiscent of The Shins or Simon and Garfunkel. The group describes its musical style as “baroque harmonic pop jams,” however, this (likely on purpose) obfuscates their style even more. Regardless of the Seattle quintet’s style of music, it is clear that on their self-titled release the group creates memorable, sometimes haunting songs, which do not need a succinct genre to be enjoyable.

The first thing a listener might notice is the vocal prominence and the slight instrumentation employed by Fleet Foxes. On the first track, “Sun it Rises,” there is almost nothing but shared harmonies and reverberated vocals, with occasional use of guitar solos. This sort of penchant to stress vocally-created harmonies continues throughout the album. “Heard Them Stirring,” the seventh track on the album, does not have lyrics, but almost the entire song is comprised of vocals with a backing drum beat. It is an aesthetically appealing, near-instrumental piece, and one of the most relaxed and tranquil pieces of music produced recently.

Although the songs written are all intriguing, there is not a significant amount of variance between the tracks. Certainly, the melodies are each different and appealing, but the structure of the songs is almost entirely constant. While this is not a problem for many, due to the low-key nature of the album, it may annoy some listeners.

The album, at times, transports the listener to another place, a beautiful place, with fairy-tale-like properties. They sing of rising suns and ragged woods, and the reverberated vocals remind one of a 1940s country singer. Overall, the album, while transformative and relaxing, could use some expansion. The fluidity of each track to each other track is near perfect, and how each track relates to the album as a whole is wonderful.

However, the reason each track relates so well to each other track is that they are extremely – almost too – similar. This, along with the poetically incomprehensible lyrics makes the album far from perfect, but it’s still an extremely enjoyable listen, and one which could easily transcend the era in which it was created, to become a well-known classic.

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Album Review: Stay Positive

by on Oct.27, 2008, under Album Reviews

The Hold Steady are often compared to Bruce Springsteen. Lead singer Craig Finn’s gruff voice, coupled with the pervasive drum patterns and powerful guitar and piano solos, which are common in Hold Steady albums, make this comparison very apt. The band, which has roots in the Twin Cities, even discusses the same sort of American themes which Springsteen made his forte. However, in this regard, The Hold Steady does more than Springsteen ever could. This is particularly apparent in their newest album, Stay Positive.

The album begins with “Constructive Summer,” an upbeat song that undulates between being The Hold Steady’s apparent take on punk music and a classic rock ballad. The former of these seems to be validated in the song’s lyrics, which make references to Iggy Pop and The Clash. The song’s upbeat rhythms and guitar solos make both a good introduction for the rest of the album and a good introduction to The Hold Steady’s overall style.

The second track, “Sequestered in Memphis,” deserves being the album’s single. Although, musically, key elements of The Hold’s Steady’s music pervades the song, lyrically, the impact of band influences John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats and poet Jim Carroll becomes clear. It tells the story of a man who appears to have had some sort of affair with a fugitive. It tells this story from the point of view of the man being interviewed by a lawyer at trial. Not only does it tell the story very well in only two verses, it also demonstrates the man’s frustrated feelings at being interviewed. The second verse ends, “Well look, what the hell, I’ll tell my story again,” which perfectly explains how the man – and many people in his situation – feel.

The whole album is full of these sorts of interesting and well-told stories. However, it’s not simply a lyric-heavy album, full of verbose and abstract sentiments. Anyone who’s a fan of classic rock will certainly be satisfied by Hold Steady’s music. Some of the songs also have more modern sounds. “Navy Sheets,” for example, contains guitar riffs which could very well have been written by Radiohead. The album also contains beautifully orchestrated ballads, such as “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” which has empathy-producing piano segments and “Slapped Actress,” which ends with efficacious use of a small choir. Other highlights include “Stay Positive” and “Magazines.”

The only problem which presents itself in the album is that many of the songs are very similar. In order to easily differentiate between songs on the album, a more than casual listen must be undertaken. Aside from that, the album is fun and upbeat and it contains extremely pertinent selections of wisdom addressing the difficulties of life along with well-crafted ironies related to life. The album is many things, depending on the mood of the listener. Sometimes it’s simply a good, upbeat set of music. Other times, it feels didactic. Sometimes, it is even darkly humorous. And occasionally, it is all of these, and more, presenting an excellent and diverse album.

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